Tuesday, April 12, 2011

RIP Download Squad (2005 - 2011)

AOL has decided to shut down popular tech blog Download Squad. The site was launched by Weblogs Inc in 2005. It's the second time an AOL web site I wrote for has been shuttered, although this time it happened after I left the fold. My first paid blogging gig was with PVR Wire, another Weblogs Inc site. At the time PVR was shut down there was a bit of outcry, but to be honest, the site was a tiny little speck compared to Download Squad which has consistently been one of the top sources for news about desktop apps, web apps, and mobile apps over the past 6 years.

Like PVR Wire, Download Squad will likely live on in corpse form for a while. As far as I can tell, AOL never figured out a great strategy for monetizing a blog that largely covered free software, even though millions of people visited the site every month. But it will continue to bring in revenue for months and maybe years to come as long as nobody goes and changes the URL structure (again). There just won't be any new posts.

It's a shame, because Download Squad regularly attracted talented writers who were enthusiastic about discovering new apps and sharing their knowledge with the community. I learned a lot about software, writing, and working with a team of bloggers across the globe during the three years I wrote for the site.

It's also a shame because on paper, AOL's acquisition of The Huffington Post could lead to great things. While AOL was much criticized recently for "The AOL Way," and the company's Seed project for attracting freelance contributions never really took off, Arianna Huffington has stated that her goal is to move away from a model based on freelance bloggers and to hire full time bloggers and journalists who can commit more energy to their sites. Unfortunately someone must have decided that Download Squad wasn't pulling in enough traffic or revenue to justify full time staff, which is ridiculous for a site as popular as Download Squad.

While I'm not particularly interested in taking a salaried position at this point in my career, I wish AOL would have hired full time bloggers for Download Squad and many of its other properties years ago. It's always felt strange to expect bloggers to pour their heart and soul into their work for $10 or $15 per post. Writing for Download Squad was one of the most difficult blogging gigs around, because it required not just coming up with an on-the-spot opinion about some article you read, but downloading and installing software, testing it out to see if it lives up to its promise, and writing a mini-review in roughly 150 to 500 words (with occasional room for longer feature reports).But Download Squad bloggers worked remarkably hard at their jobs despite the relatively poor pay right up until they received a letter yesterday letting them know that their services were no longer required.

I eventually left Download Squad because I wanted to start my own software blog at Mobiputing.com, and it looks like I got out at the right time. But it's still sad to see the web site go. Working with the team at Download Squad was probably the best freelance gig I've ever had.

Fortunately my friend and colleague Lee Mathews, who has been an editor for Download Squad for the last few years as well as a contributor to Liliputing for the past few years has agreed to begin posting more regularly at Liliputing as well as Mobiputing.

Update: Hey look! Lee, Seb, Erez, Vlad, and Mathew have already put together a new site called Browser Scene! While you might not think there'd be all that much to say about web browsers day after day, you'd be surprised. Browsers are our portal to this thing called the web and new developments are taking place all the time. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the guys branch out into covering web apps, which honestly made up more of Download Squad's coverage than actual downloads for the last few years.

There's definitely an important lesson about choosing a name for your web sit in there somewhere. While DLS staffers have been covering web apps, mobile apps, and internet news as well as downloads for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers over the past few years, I think a fair number of people got the wrong idea about the site based on the name. Anyway, check out Browser Scene. It's pretty cool!


dolores said...

Good requeim for DLS Brad. I wholeheartedly agree.

timo verbeek said...

http://www.browserscene.com/ there new website of some of the writers

Sebastian Anthony said...

Thanks, Brad -- I mean, obviously DLS was your baby too, but it's nice to hear my own thoughts coming out of someone else's mouth :)

You got out at the right time, that's for sure.

I can't begin to imagine what the atmosphere is like at AOL. An ever-present fear of being fired can't be good for morale.

Brad Linder said...

No kidding. I had to laugh when I saw that Patch is hiring 800 new full time employees. AOL seems to complete change strategy every other week. I love that they're investing in journalism, but I fear that these jobs will only exist for about 3 months.

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